Friday, 1 July 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants In Manhattan - Review

Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: Activision 
Platforms: PS4 (version played), PS3, Xbox One, 360, PC

You could stick PlatinumGames with any licensed series and get excited at what they'd make. I wrote last year about how I'm still waiting for my Platinum-developed Dragonball Z game, and I hope there's a chance it gets developed. Platinum and quality action games go hand in hand. Why then, is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan so awful?

And I do mean awful. Not disappointing or underwhelming, but a flat out bad game, possibly the worst I've played this year so far. The hastily slapped together objectives, shallow combat and repetitive levels make for a miserable experience and it's made twice as painful because this should be good.

Platinum's take on the mutant chelonians has its roots in Konami's 1989 arcade classic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a simple and effective side-scrolling beat-'em-up. Mutants in Manhattan likewise takes a similar approach, ostensibly being a 3D take on that style of game.

All four turtles are playable at all times, even during single player. In fact, if you're playing alone, it's all but required to constantly switch from turtle to turtle during the game's more testing fights. As you'd expect, each character comes with their own unique moves that give them their own identity. Here, Platinum draw on the mechanics they played around with in Transformers, with each turtle's weapon of choice altering their move set slightly. Leonardo and Raphael make for the more straightforward fighters, whilst Donatello is the slower character with more crowd control thanks to his bo staff, and Michaelangelo is the most adept at racking up a huge combo with his nun-chucks.

All of this is moot mind, given that the core combat is shallow, frustrating and incredibly messy. Whilst there's glimpses of depth in the various character's different fighting styles, each fight is little more than wailing on enemies with jabs of square and triangle. Enemies are practically immune to hit-stun, meaning it's all but impossible to string a combo together before getting whacked in the face. There's the typical dodge mechanic that's in Bayonetta, but the fights become so cluttered, and the enemies attacks are so poorly telegraphed, that it's impossible to score last-minute dodges on a regular basis. In fact, the best way to survive is to use a hit and run strategy, diving in whenever the A.I.'s attention is on another character.

Almost all of the game's monsters punish you for actually playing the game like a typical action game. Little UFO enemies will constantly fire lasers at you, knocking you out of combos, until you smack them with a few shurikens. Another enemy variant will explode on contact, again, punishing up-close combat. These same few poor enemy designs are then repeated ad-nauseum during the four to five hours it takes to complete the story. They're sloppy visual designs too, with a generic hammer-wielding rock monster being the primary foe throughout most chapters, and each level typically shovels out the same two or three main enemy types again and again.

Likewise, the basic level objectives are recycled multiple times throughout the campaign. Defusing bombs, killing enemies or carrying another type of bomb to a warp point (that presumably can't be defused) take up the majority of each level's play time. It's nothing but padding, plain and simple, and when the enemies and the combat fail to expand from chapter to chapter, you're left with the same button-mashing bore over and over again, as you carry out the busy work that'll get you to the next boss.

The bosses that bookend each chapter are undoubtedly more exciting then the dull missions that precede them. Like with the little unique character touches to each turtle, with a bit more work and some dedication, they could have been fun. Bebop, Rocksteady and Shredder have plenty of character, after all. Instead, each boss is effectively the same minus an attack or two. Most have an area-of-effect attack, a charge move and maybe a long range technique of some kind. Even worse, they all suffer from obscenely bloated health bars, much like regular enemies, meaning fights devolve into even less strategy and simply become a case of outlasting the boss. When playing alone this is even more insulting, typically, the computer-controlled characters are best dealing out the damage (and dying) whilst you skirt around the back avoiding damage. So long as one character is alive the others will soon respawn.

These boss encounters also try and highlight the simple power system that Mutants In Manhattan uses. Each turtle is equipped with four different abilities that can be mixed and matched between chapters and upgraded with points. Most are universal, whilst some are exclusive to a particular turtle, Donatello has a unique healing power for example, whilst Leonardo can temporarily trigger what is effectively this game's “Witch Time”, slowing down time for the whole team. They're RPG elements, essentially, with each move having its own cooldown that's sped up whenever the turtles are close to one another. Yet, rather than have any nuance, the game encourages you to simply dump these attacks on the boss the moment they're available.

Mutants in Manhattan tacks on a few more gimmicks that fail to improve any aspect of the core gameplay. A rudimentary equipment system means that characters can be suited up with different charms that give them various, incredibly minor, bonuses. Transformers toyed around with a similar system with its weapons and it was easily the weakest element of that game. Action games should put all their focus on the action, and not bog down their pacing with fussy menu management. Each level will award you with a load of junk that can be used to upgrade these charms effectiveness. Awkwardly shoving in RPG elements to a game that has no need for them rarely works out, and, given that nothing else works in Mutants in Manhattan, it's even more glaringly obvious.  It's another shallow system that's so slap-dash and inconsequential that it can be ignored entirely.

What's worse however, is that with all this lazy padding and rehashed gameplay, the game still needs to bulk up its playtime with reruns of the same levels and bosses. Two levels take place in a near identical sewer that's essentially a maze of grey corridors. Meanwhile, the penultimate chapter is nothing but a boss gauntlet of all the previous main adversaries.

Mutants in Manhattan doesn't feel like a Platinum game, it just feels like a complete mess. What's worse though is that there's hints of something better, hidden beneath all the rehashed material and sloppy combat. The cut-scenes, voice-acting and overall look and style is faithful to the cartoon, and will likely give fans of the show something to enjoy. But that's almost impossible to appreciate amidst the sheer laziness that's on offer here. Platinum are busy working on other titles at the moment, Nier: Automata and Scalebound to name two, so Mutants in Manhattan is clearly the game that got the shaft.

Bad games come about all the time. What's worse though are bad games that should be good, and there's the faintest glimpse of that here. Wasted potential is worse than no potential, after all. Mutants in Manhattan can easily go down as Platinum's worst game to date.


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